This article that I wrote originally appeared on Suite101
Heighten the Climax By Resolving Subplots
Tie Up Threads Before the Last Section of the Novel
Simplifying the plot by tying up subplot threads can make the climax more emotionally heightened.
Subplots are wonderful things. They can help the reader better understand the characters by showing them in various situations and how they react. Subplots can also complicate a plot and help it take its meandering way to the climax.
But there is also one trick many novelists use to make the climax of the novel more emotionally intense, and that is to tie up subplot threads beforehand.
Complicate, Then Simplify
Take advantage of subplots that enhance and complicate the plot. It makes for more interesting reading and your reader won’t be able to put the book down.
However, as you build toward the climax of the book, strip away the subplots so that only the climax problem remains or any minor subplot threads that directly relate to the climax or resolution.
By simplifying the plot in this way, it allows the reader to devote more attention and emotional energy to the events of the climax and the issues involved in the climax.
If a reader is devoting a fraction of brain power to wondering about an unresolved subplot thread or story question, the reader is not fully engaged in the story’s ending. After you have devoted considerable hours and energy toward building the novel to the climax, you naturally want the reader to give it his undivided attention.
Structure and Word Count
Snipping subplot threads before the climax can also help simplify the story structure before the climax. It helps to psychologically create cleaner lines for the story in the reader’s mind, which again allows the reader to focus more energy and attention on the climax.
Also, if subplots are allowed to continue through the climax to be resolved at the end, the subplots might resolve in a sickly way with “telling” rather than “showing,” or the word count for the ending will be a tad long.
Typically, the climax and ending take up the last 25% of the book (the climax is at about the 75% or 85% mark), but if resolution of subplots takes up too many pages, it could shift the climax to the 60% mark of the book rather than the 85% mark, which is a bit awkward in terms of story flow.
Now, these numbers are just generalities, not rules. They’re simply observations and statistics of how a typical novel will play out.
Use Your Best Judgment
Every story is different, and sometimes a subplot thread is more emotionally powerful if it’s left until after the climax. Go for it—it’s your novel and you know best what kind of pacing and flow you are aiming for.
But if you can simplify by tying up other subplot threads before the climax, try to do so. It will focus the reader’s attention on the climax events. Then after the climax, the reader will be free to turn his attention to the resolution and any subplot threads you have yet to resolve.